The date every Verizon IndyCar Series enthusiast is looking forward to is March 13. That’s when the 2016 season gets underway with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
But before there can be a race, there needs to be a track.
Defending Indianapolis 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya was on hand in St. Petersburg, Florida on Tuesday to help get the track construction process underway. Montoya joined St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and Green Savoree Promotions co-owners Kim Green and Kevin Savoree in wearing hard hats to note the occasion.
“It’s very nice to be here in St. Petersburg and see the racetrack, see the city,” Montoya told IndyCar.com. “The city is really pretty. Preparing for the first race is huge, last year was a great race for me and a great crowd. Hopefully we’ll have a great crowd and a great race weekend (this year) as well.”
How the track is constructed relies on traffic flow in the city located west of Tampa. The ceremony took place in Bay Shore Drive, a low traffic area and will conclude in areas close to Albert Whitted Airport, where the track occupies one runway.
When it’s all done, the area will have become a 1.8-mile, 14-turn circuit. Montoya won the 2015 race to start last season. The Grand Prix of St. Petersburg has been held every year since 2003 except for 2004. This year will be the eighth time it has opened the IndyCar season.
“It’s a great way to start the season,” Montoya said. “We do about three or four street courses a year and this is one of the most fun ones, for sure.”
Valtteri Bottas nipped Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton in Silverstone qualifying Saturday to maintain the team’s hammerlock on F1 results this season while Nico Hulkenberg was a surprise in third.
Hulkenberg is filling in for Sergio Perez for the second consecutive race while the Racing Point driver recovers from coronavirus.
It’s the best F1 start since 2016 for Hulkenberg, who was left without a full-time ride after the 2019 season. He finished 20th at Silverstone last week when an engine problem on the grid prevented him ftaking the green.
FERNANDO IS HERE: Alonso arrives for Indy 500
“The last seven to eight days have been crazy,” Hulkenberg said after qualifying. “This weekend I felt much better prepared. Q3 was just head down, full beans, and give it whatever I had.
“I’m a bit surprised to be standing here, but there’s a big smile on my face.”
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen qualified fourth and will be among the field trying to derail the Mercedes duo that has won the first four races of an F1 season delayed because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
“Feels good,” Bottas said after nipping Hamilton by a few hundredths of a second on his final lap for his 13th career pole position. ” I just love qualifying especially, when it goes well. Proud to drive this car. The race pace is there, so our first job is to get a good start off the line tomorrow and go from there.”
The impressive lap came two days after Bottas, who won the season opener in Austria, announced a one-year contract extension with the team.
Mercedes also is set to begin negotiating a new deal with Hamilton, who has won the past three races in F1 but was disappointed Saturday.
“Valtteri did a great job, but for me, it wasn’t a perfect last lap,” he said. “I don’t think many teams will be doing a one-stop race tomorrow so let’s wait and see how things turn out.”